When was it recorded? Oct. 8, 1968
When was it first released, and on which album? Nov. 22, 1968 on “The Beatles”
Who wrote it? Lennon
Have I heard this song before? No
What my research dug up:
The titular “Bungalow Bill” – nicknamed to evoke American hunter Buffalo Bill and comic book character Jungle Jim – was based on Richard “Rik” Cooke III, an American staying at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh at the same time as the Beatles. Well, actually he was there visiting his mother, Nancy Cooke de Herrera, which — if you’ve heard or looked up the words to this song – make more of the lyrics understandable. I’ll let Wikipedia break the rest of it down for you.
- According to [de Herrera], both she and her son maintained friendly relations with all of The Beatles except for Lennon, who by de Herrera’s account was “a genius” but distant and contemptuous of the wealthy American Cooke de Herrera and her clean-cut, college-attending son.
- Worth noting: Mia Farrow, who was at the ashram at the same time, describes both mother and son as “bland” in her account.
- According to [de Herrera]’s life account, “Beyond Gurus,” the genesis of the song occurred when she, Rik, and several others, including guides, set out upon elephants to hunt for a tiger (allegedly presented by their Indian guide as a traditional act).
- The pack of elephants was attacked by a tiger, which was shot by Rik.
- Rik was initially proud of his quick reaction and posed for a photograph with his prize.
- The photo can be seen on his website that I’ve linked below (I thought about posting it here but ultimately it made me too uncomfortable. It’s not gory, in my opinion; it’s just weird).
- However, Rik’s reaction to the slaying was mixed, as he has not hunted since.
- de Herrera claims that all present recognized the necessity of Rik’s action, but that John Lennon’s reaction was scornful and sarcastic, asking Rik, “But wouldn’t you call that slightly life-destructive?”
So obviously John wrote “Bungalow” as, according to the Wiki, “mocking what he saw as Rik’s bravado and unenlightened attitude.”
Quoth the Beatles Bible, “Like ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ before it, ‘Bungalow Bill’ consists of two musically unconnected song ideas, joined together by three beats on a bass drum. The recording was intentionally sloppy, and anyone who happened to be available in Abbey Road was rounded up to contribute backing vocals.” Most prominent of said backing vocals were Maureen Starkey and Yoko Ono; Ono even briefly sings one prominent line on the song, making “Bungalow” the only Beatles song in which a woman sings lead.
Head’s up – this video starts really quiet then gets loud around twenty seconds in.
My opinion? Good song, creepy backstory. The backstory actually kind of mars any charms the song might have held for me. Well, that and the sneering undercurrent of the scarily chipper melody. Come to think of it, that was basically my reason for disliking “Baby, You’re a Rich Man,” too. Slowly but surely, a pattern arises.